The world is globalized to an extent never seen before in human history.
With that, comes a fast and furious supply chain that’s ever harder to trace, control, and predict.
And with that, comes an increased risk for foodborne illness contamination. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that the United States sees 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually. That leads to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Ultimately, 1 in 6 Americans will experience some level of sickness from contamination each year.
To get ahead of and lower these rates of infection, the root of the issue must be addressed. And without the ability to figure out where that contamination has started, it’s exponentially more difficult to figure out where it’s going.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
As the supply chain gets faster and as the world gets more interconnected, technology is also accelerating at an equal or greater pace.
We as an industry now have the tools necessary to meet a lightning-fast supply chain where it is — but it’s important to balance health and safety considerations with the need for efficiency.
Fusionware is combining its industry-best traceability tools with some of the most innovative technology to help predict and fight the human toll and economic impact of foodborne illness.
A Look Into the Future
Those in the ag industry may not have a crystal ball to show exactly when and where foodborne illness outbreaks will happen.
But these days, predictions are closer than you would think.
Enter predictive modeling: Combase Predictor computer models can show the relative risk of listeria monocytogenes growth, based on different temperature and time conditions. Listeria is just one example of a potentially dangerous, extremely costly foodborne illness that can bring the fresh produce supply chain to a grinding halt when it’s discovered.
Just take a look at the scale of impact from previous outbreaks:
- A listeria outbreak in Canada in 2008 peaked at 57 cases (24 deaths) linked to contaminated deli meat. Not only were those 24 lives lost, but the estimated economic costs were at a whopping $242 million Canadian dollars for the responsible plant and federal agencies who had to respond to the outbreak. The meat company at fault had direct costs north of $20 million, and that’s not considering the indirect costs that lingered on the company’s reputation for years to come.
- In 2000, 29 people in 11 different states in the U.S. were infected with listeria — and 16 million pounds of processed turkey and chicken meat were recalled.
- In the U.S. alone, the estimated economic cost of all food safety incidents is $7 billion… per year.
“Listeria is top-of-mind for the food industry, its customers, and consumers,” said Debbie Raide, VP of Operations at Boardman Foods and Chairman of the Food Northwest Board of Directors. “It is a dangerous pathogen and has no place in the food supply.”
Food Northwest has been a leader in the fight against listeria: their listeria control checklist was developed for food processors with FDA guidance and best practices in mind to establish where holes in the supply chain processes could be found.
But beyond the tools available for internal audits like Food Northwest’s checklist, innovative predictive modeling can also help companies figure out where listeria has the potential of developing. This modeling looks at the risk of holding fresh produce out of temperature control for certain amounts of time and compares that risk with the risk of currently allowed practices. This gives us a much better idea of when and how food starts to go bad — and when an outbreak is likely.
Food code requirements stipulate that fresh produce be stored at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Predictive modeling can examine produce stored either below or above those temperatures, and for how long — and what amount of risk is posed by that specific combination.
Food held at temperatures 10 degrees higher than industry standard, but for shorter amounts of time, for example, could pose an equivalent risk as food held at “borderline” temperatures (in the 41 degrees range) for longer amounts of time. Predictive modeling can give ranges of time and temperature that remain safe — and point out when it starts to get dangerous.
Traceability remains crucial to stopping foodborne illnesses like listeria.
Thanks to predictive modeling, we have a better idea than ever about when and how listeria starts to grow.
But with an eye to the future, it’s just as important to keep an eye backwards: the ability to trace the point of origin of illness through the supply chain is critical to preventing its spread. And Fusionware is the industry’s leading purveyor of that traceability.
From the moment a product is shipped, you’ll have information about the entire supply chain life cycle right at your fingertips. With that comes the increased ability to track the genesis of when something has gone wrong. And the upside of that traceability is priceless.
When we know how and where illness has developed, we can better track where it’s headed. The benefits of that traceability when it comes to foodborne illnesses like listeria are well-known:
- Faster response efforts
- Fewer infections and deaths
- A faster return to normal levels of production after the threat has been contained
- An increase in customer confidence that their food is safe
- Limiting the economic impact of large recalls or supply chain slowdowns
“When people’s health and sometimes their life is in jeopardy, the faster foodborne contamination can be tracked or traced, the fewer people are affected. Fusionware reduces this time to figure out key information from hours, and sometimes days, to minutes,”Creg Fielding, Fusionware CEO.
Even one life lost to a foodborne illness outbreak is too much. Customers’ health and safety are in the hands of an industry with more access to mitigation tools than ever before — and it’s crucial that industry leaders take advantage.
Traceability isn’t the sole solution to stopping foodborne illness outbreaks. But combined with new technology like predictive modeling for illnesses like listeria, the industry can mitigate the risk of outbreaks — and eliminate consumer concerns — to an extent never seen before.